Steve Shallenberger: A quick message for you: We wanted to let you know that the Becoming Your Best 2020 Planner has arrived and, as you’re starting to set your sights on having an extraordinary year in 2020, this planner will be a tremendous resource for you. We want to let you know that, particularly this year, there is a big-time discount for you! They’re here, they’re ready to ship, so if you would like to get yours on the way, just write to us at email@example.com – you’re going to love this planner!
Welcome to our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners, wherever you might be in the world today! What a delight it would be to sit here, knee to knee with you, in the same room, and just talk about this subject that we’re going to have and get your ideas on it, and your input. Today’s subject is the Becoming Your Best Refresh/Reset rule.
Let me just start this by sharing the highlights, the overview, of a movie that many of you will be familiar with and some of you haven’t seen it yet. It came out some years ago – City Slickers. It starred Billy Crystal and Jack Palance and it’s fabulous! It’s about a group of friends that decides to go on a cattle drive to figure out what life is all about. And so, it’s pretty fabulous this movie! Jack Palance is absolutely amazing! We’ll never forget, as he’s riding along with Billy Crystal and they’re talking about the things of life, Jack Palance stops his horse and looks over and says, “You know, it really just comes down to this.” And he holds up his index finger in his cowboy glove. Billy Crystal looks back and he says, “What? A finger?” And Jack Palance responds, “No. It comes down to just one thing, your one thing that really makes a difference.” And I love that! It’s so wonderful.
There’s another big scene where one of the characters in the movie has lost his job, lost his marriage, and he is really down in the dumps. They’re worried about him, quite frankly – he’s discouraged, he’s depressed – and as he’s sitting there at the end of one of the long days of driving cattle all day, and they’re thinking about the future, they just tell him, “Hey, all you have to really work on is a do-over!” “Hey, I can do a do-over!” Well, that’s what I want to talk about today – that story, City Slickers has a great ending, it’s a wonderful experience for every single one, as they are refreshed, as they get to do a reset, and really get after life in every way possible.
One of my early mentors was a fellow by the name of Gardner Russell – a wonderful friend and an inspirational individual. When I was a young man, he gave this example that when you have something that is upsetting, that has happened to you, perhaps you feel angry, upset, frustrated, or discouraged, he would then say, “You can determine how long it will take you to get back on track, to center yourself, to get going in a positive direction. You can take five seconds, five minutes, five hours, five days, five weeks, five months, five years or even a lifetime to get over it, and some people never do get over it. But you just have to determine that you will be the one that will get over it in five seconds, if you can, and that you’re free to choose. You can choose to act or to be acted upon, but the bottom line is you’re free to choose and your choice determines your happiness and joy in life and it affects your health and productivity in life. It impacts your relationships and your ability to make a difference in life.” I love that concept! When I heard Gardner talk about that, I determined I would try to be the type of person that when something happened, I just wouldn’t sit there in my pity, but I would try to be the one who got up in five seconds, that could get back on track as quickly as possible.
And so, this is the invitation to you, to me, to our listeners today – to maintain a positive attitude, to exercise a steely discipline regardless of the adversity, and when we have a setback – to get right back on track. I have a friend that I’ve been talking with recently, and this morning, we were talking about this very issue. How do you stay positive? I shared an experience I’ve had with my wife and I’ve shared this with some of you – my wonderful sweet wife was diagnosed six years ago with Alzheimer’s and dementia. It’s been tough in the last two years, particularly; she’s really gone downhill and she’s such a light for me! I’m grateful to be around her, but she is being afflicted, attacked by this terrible disease, in spite of the fact that she does overall maintain a very positive, upbeat demeanor, and happiness, but also some negativity has crept in. It just happens, it’s part of one of the side effects of this disease. So, she’s been saying, “Well, you don’t have any money, you don’t have any pants on, you’re in the wrong place. I thought you were a better man than this.” Well, of course, this is not her at all.
But here is what I have decided to do: for any negative that she gives me, I will give two positives for her. In other words, this is an example that we have a choice of how we respond here. We can either take it personally and it can be upsetting or we can recognize it for what it is. And so, if she says something, I just respond back, “You’re amazing! I am so grateful I have the chance to be with you.” And then, bang! She shoots out another negative. And I’ll say, “One of the things I like about you is the positive light that you’ve always had. And another is how smart you are. And you’re a battler, you’re just so competitive.” We raced the other night, from our kitchen to our bedroom and she won, I might add. On the way there, she pushed me against the wall, into our stair railing. It was funny. So you just remind her of these kinds of things. Two, for one. And what I found is, by doing a two for one, it changes her mood, it changes her attitude and these things stop.
And this is what we’re talking about, is exercising a steely discipline regardless of the adversity, to be positive, to get back on track. We all know that it’s not necessarily easy. Life can be hard at times and the tests may be severe, the refiner’s fire may get hot, and the temptation is to give in or maybe give up, maybe saying, “Oh, what’s the use?” However, to give in to the dark side – using the Star Wars language – is never worth it, not even for five minutes and not for five seconds.
So think of the alternative to happiness, peace, and productivity. The alternative is misery, frustration, and lack of productivity. So what’s the answer? How do we develop the habit of shifting to only good thoughts? How do you do that consistently, to have this positivity without any exceptions?
Well, recently, about 10 days ago, I had a dream – or better said, a nightmare (This, by the way, describes most of my dreams. For example, I’ve died in plane accidents in seven different ways. And oh, they’re terrible! And I wake up and I feel horrible.) Well, I’d like to just share this particular dream or nightmare. I was working on a backhoe and I was driving the backhoe and managing and operating the backhoe. And my cousin, Bill, who at the time, in this dream, was about 10-years-old, was standing near the big hole that I had already dug, and I was being very careful. I looked over, my Aunt Betty walked up – and my wonderful Aunt Betty is 92 now – and she asked, “Where’s Bill? And I looked around and I didn’t see him and in the dream, I lifted the bucket. Oh my goodness, he had fallen in the hole and the bucket had crushed him, and there he was, under. I was horrified. Then, I woke up. Oh, my goodness! I felt terrible! And it was a real feeling, I was sick, it was kind of hopeless.
Have you ever had an experience like that? A traumatic experience similar to this? Maybe in your dreams or even in an interaction with another person, perhaps? Well, that is when I said to my brain, right then and there, “We have a new set of rules from this time forward.” You know, of course, it was a dream, right? And anytime I had this, I decided I could do it. And this was it. And the new rule was Good, Better, Best, RESET. A Good, Better, Best REFRESH. I gave my brain permission to go back and recreate the dream, to have a new dream. And I could do this. This was okay. And so, sure enough, I went back to sleep and before working on the backhoe, now my dream is being recreated, it’s reset, it’s refreshed. I put Bill and Aunt Betty in front of me, at a safe distance, and then, I replayed the dream, but it had a happy outcome. After I was done, I got off and we went over and had lemonade. I felt so much better!
I now have a new operating system, forever. I have given my brain permission to go back and do a reset. And if I’m not happy with the results, then I can refresh it, I can reset it. And then I thought to myself, if I can do that for my dreams, or my nightmares, then why can’t I do the very same thing in real life? And if I do something I’m not pleased with, then I can apply the good, better, best, reset rule, the refresh rule – and I can do so immediately; I can even say to myself or if others are involved, “Let’s try that again. This isn’t really how I wanted it to come out.”
And this reset rule, this refresh rule is simple, fast and refreshingly powerful. If something is off, or something bad happens – perhaps it’s a thought or an action, an interaction – immediately go back and reset it, refresh it, and make it good, better or best. If you were impatient, if you made a mistake, if you need to forgive, if you were rude or short, if you violated a trust, if you could have done better, do it now. Reset! Apply the reset rule, the refresh rule. If you harbor ill-feelings, if you’re critical, do it now. Reset. I can do the reset. I can wash away the bad and bring in the new, the good, the better, and the best. The impact of this very simple process – the reset rule, the good, better, best reset rule, refreshing things – leads to greater happiness, peace, and productivity. And it does so now. Regardless of what happens to you or those in your life, you have the freedom, the choice to make the right decision to reset over and over, to do your good, better, and best to refresh completely.
I love the quote from Viktor Frankl who was a prisoner of war, a Nazi prisoner of war. He was Jewish, in the Jewish death camps, and he was emaciated, he didn’t know if his wife was alive or not, but every day, going out into the labor fields in the freezing weather, sometimes he would look up and see her, and feel her love. And later that night, he gave his bread to another person that was starving, to give them hope, and then he made this great quote that’s recorded in his book – “Everything can be taken from a man or a person, but one thing, the last of human freedoms: to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
My invitation to you, to me, is that next time anything happens, big or small, that’s not good, determine you will respond with a positive upbeat mindset. And if at first you blow it, then reset, reset, reset, just refresh, use the reset rule until you are at your very best. The result is the exercise of Highly Successful Principles of Leadership, and you will be healthier, happier and more productive, and leave things better than when you found them. This will have a direct impact on every single relationship that you have; on trust levels, it will impact your culture and your organization.
We wish you all the best in this amazing journey of making a difference, of exercising this grand human freedom to choose what you will do in any given set of circumstances – and that is resetting it to your good, better, and best. I wish you the best of everything and a wonderful, productive, safe day. This is Steve Shallenberger, with Becoming Your Best Global Leadership.
Steve Shallenberger: A quick message for you: We wanted to let you know that the Becoming Your Best 2020 Planner has arrived and, as you’re starting to set your sights on having an extraordinary year in 2020, this planner will be a tremendous resource for you. We want to let you know that, particularly this year, there is a big-time discount for you! They’re here, they’re ready to ship, so if you would like to get yours on the way, just write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org – you’re going to love this planner!
Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to all of our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners, wherever you may be in the world today! This is your host, Steve Shallenberger, and we have a very interesting guest with us today. She is the founder and CEO of the Altimeter Group – a disruptive industry analyst firm that was acquired by Prophet in 2015. So, welcome Charlene Li!
Charlene Li: Thank you so much for having me, Steve!
Steve Shallenberger: Oh, you bet! I’m excited to have our discussion, I’ve been looking forward to it! And before we get started, I’d like to tell you a little bit more about Charlene. Not only is she the founder and CEO of the Altimeter Group, but she also has over 20 years of experience in tech and business and has been a respected advisor to Fortune 500 companies, especially on digital transformation and leadership. And for the past two decades, Charlene has been helping people see the future. Okay, I can’t wait to see the future together today, Charlene!
Charlene Li: It’s going to be fun!
Steve Shallenberger: It is! And she is the New York Times bestseller author of six books, including, “Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies”, and the new book, “The Disruption Mindset: Why Some Organizations Transform While Others Fail.” Charlene was named one of the Top 50 Leadership Innovators by Inc., and one of the most creative people in business by Fast Company. Congratulations! That’s awesome!
Charlene Li: Yeah, thank you so much!
Steve Shallenberger: Okay, well, Charlene, before we get going, tell us a little bit about your background, including any turning points that have impacted your life to where you’re at today and where were you raised and help our listeners get to know you a little bit better.
Charlene Li: Yeah. I was born in Detroit and I grew up in Detroit area with two wonderful parents who immigrated to the United States, and I had a great childhood and everything in Detroit. I went to school, back east at Harvard for undergrad and then went back to Harvard Business School after a bit of consulting. And I did something a little bit unusual coming out of Harvard Business School – while most of my peers were going into consulting or investment banking, I went into newspapers because it was 1993, the internet was just beginning to come out and I figured that being in Silicon Valley, working for a company that was going to be at the very front line of moving into the digital space – newspapers – with all its content, would be a really interesting place to be. So that was probably the most significant pivot that I made, again, going into newspapers was just not seen as something you would do, and I did it and made a bet, and that has really paid off because it gave me a front-row seat to the internet being born.
Steve Shallenberger: Wow! Yeah. And talk about change, what an industry of change, right?
Charlene Li: Yeah. And again, when I went there, there was no World Wide Web. Just to give you an idea, I was working with the San Jose Mercury News and we were one of the first newspapers to go online and I was helping our advertising department figure out what does a banner ad looks like? How do you sell it? What’s the value prop? What size is it going to be? How much do we charge for it? What’s the value behind that? And so, being able to understand what is it that people really valued in advertising and creating a business around it, was really fascinating.
Steve Shallenberger: Oh, that’s great! Well, thanks for that background. That’s wonderful! Harvard’s a great place, I enjoyed being there, and it’s so fun to be able to have that experience and then go out in the world and see if we can try to make a difference, right?
Charlene Li: And I think one of the things I learned from there is that your career is something you have to actually manage, you’ve got to spend time on it. Just thinking strategically about what I was doing in newspapers and what I wanted to do next, was a really important value that Harvard implanted in my brain, because that’s not something you would take away as necessary, you’re worried about spreadsheets or strategies and all these other things that you learn at an MBA, but probably the best course I did was how do you think about to manage yourself – the biggest asset you ever manage, which is yourself and your career. That was really instrumental.
Steve Shallenberger: I’m so glad you mentioned that! That’s a big deal, isn’t it?
Charlene Li: Yeah. I like to say that people spend more time managing their music playlist than they do managing their careers which is, if you think about it, not a good indication of what our priorities are. That’s one of the things that I continually did, and a key point in [00:05:58.29] newspaper and becoming an [00:06:00.21] since I started my company, and continuing to pivot and to grow has been something that’s really helped me to just continually think about where I am.
Steve Shallenberger: That’s a great way to put it – more time in their playlist and managing their playlist than managing their careers. And I might add managing their lives, where it’s a whole package, and they’re very much interrelated. Now, let’s jump right into your new book, “The Disruption Mindset”. I’m excited to talk about it! I had the opportunity to get a copy of Charlene’s book in advance and had the chance to read it. I love it! Really fun ideas – we’ll talk about it today. And I think that this will be interesting for leaders anywhere that are managing change, managing disruption – and they are a bit different, you know, change is ever-present. I think disruption it’s either going to happen to you or it’s something you do by design. One of the things that Charlene talks about in her book is disruption doesn’t take days off. Well put!
Charlene Li: Yes, I like to say that disruption isn’t something you turn on and off at your convenience, it isn’t something that’s relegated to one department in your organization, and it’s very uneven so you never quite know when it’s going to hit, so you always have to be on the lookout for it. But when it does come in and when you go looking for it, some amazing growth opportunities come your way.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay, well, let’s just talk about this because when you talk about this, you talk about approaching disruption backward, and then, how to turn the tables for future breakthrough growth. How does that work?
Charlene Li: Well, I think, in many ways, we keep looking for some disruptive technology or disruptive innovation to drive growth, and that’s backward because it’s actually growth that creates disruption. I talk to a lot of companies and ask them, “What’s keeping you from growing?” And they talk about all these different things, and it’s usually not because they don’t know what they could be doing with the technology that’s there; it’s the fact that if they were to grow exponentially more than they are today, it would cause so many problems for organizations, it would be hard, it would be very disruptive to their sense of order, so they don’t step into it. And disruptive organizations do just the opposite. They have the mindset of, “Yeah, it’s going to be difficult but it’s worth going after because we’re going to grow exponentially.”
Steve Shallenberger: Okay. I love that perspective of it and how to think about it. Good job! So, how do you create a strategy – you talk in your book about really being focused on future customers – so how do you create a strategy that’s inspired by future customers? And then, you also talk about how to make a big gulp decision. Tell us what those are and then how do you move in that direction?
Charlene Li: Yeah, again, I kept getting asked by people, “So what’s the right strategy? What’s the best strategy to create disruptive growth?” And when it came down to it, all of these organizations did one thing, or one thing particularly well, and that is they focused on their future customers, and they aligned the entire organization on the future customer. And the reason why that is so important, is if you know who you’re trying to serve, then today, you’re going to make the investment, dedicate the resources, make the sacrifices you need to, in the present day, to ensure that you’re going to be able to do this in the future. And most organizations, when I ask them if I could see their strategy plans, they pull out a plan for the next year. And that’s not a strategic plan, that’s a budget of how you are going to meet short-term objectives. Where is your plan looking out three, five years? What do you think the future looks like? Who do you think your future customers are? And it’s so important to be able to take care of your customers of today, but I can almost guarantee you your customers of today are probably not the customers of the future. So, that’s the key difference, disruptive organizations are really focused and aligned around that future customer and allows them to think into the future and not just for today and the status quo.
Steve Shallenberger: So I think for me, and maybe for some of our listeners, the idea, the challenge of identifying and trying to understand what a future customer may look like could be a daunting challenge. And so, what are the best ways to get the answer to “What do my future customers look like?” What are your best practices? How do you zero in on this Charlene?
Charlene Li: There’s a shortcut way, which is, take a guess – do your best guess of who your future customer is. And the reality is, everybody in the organization will probably have a different idea, but you start to center around some ideas, you spend some time on it. I think it’s here, it’s probably there, but start with a hypothesis, then go and do research, go and create what I call an “Empathy Map”. Because it’s not really identifying them completely, like, what jobs they have or titles or the psychographic, the demographics. An empathy map says, “This future customer, what are they thinking? What are they feeling? What are they saying? What are they doing?” And so, I may not know all those specifics, but if I can put myself into their shoes, understand their needs, where they are, and how we could potentially solve those needs – and that actually is a great way to align people around who that future customer is. And it’s so much more powerful than some organizations using, for example, persona, or the customer journey. Those are really powerful tools, but they almost never make it out of their strategy planning and the design phase of a product or a service. We’re talking about having a model of the future customer that everybody in the organization can see and understand. And when you see that future customer or just an inkling of it, then you can send out the fly, put out the announcement, “I got one here! Come in everybody, go look at this”, because you could study them, really understand who they are, but you can’t do that unless you know what you’re looking for.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay. Well, thanks for that guidance! Tell us what a big gulp decision is.
Charlene Li: Yeah. The big gulp is a mission that once you figure out who that future customer is, you figure what the strategy is, and you’re looking at what it’s going to take, the big change you’re going to have to do, this big, huge pivot, a big investment decision – man, it’s awfully scary! I think one of the hardest things is you are not going to be 100% sure that it’s the right thing to do; you’re pretty sure, but there is no guarantee. And oftentimes in business, we want things to work out, but we won’t make that decision until we’re absolutely sure it’s going to be right, perfect – and by then, by the time you actually have figured that out, it’s too late. The big gulp decisions are needed because given all the information we have right now, all the choices that you have, you can have a standstill or you can go forward – and it requires taking a big gulp in making that jump. And that’s what disruptive organizations do, they kind of take a deep breath, their palms are sweating, their stomach is churning, it’s absolutely awful – you close your eyes and you jump. And it may not work out, and that’s okay because you’re going to get yourself up, dust yourself up, figure it out again and jump again. Every time you fail you learn something and hopefully you do the next jump even better.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay, well, one thing is for sure, and you’ve identified this in your book, you use several examples, and we see it all over in industry, we see it all over in our lives, is change is happening every day and disruption is happening every day. And I like this focus on growth, on breakthrough growth and maintaining real growth and this mindset really helps you move through that pathway of saying, “Well, how do we do it?” Now, from your experience, Charlene, why do some companies make this transformation, and they’re successful in it, moving through the change, through disruption, being the ones doing the disrupting, versus being the ones getting disrupted, and those that don’t, those that struggle through the transformation?
Charlene Li: Well, again, we talked a little bit about it, that the strategy is focused on that future customer. Then, they also have a leadership team that’s really focused on driving everybody toward that objective and creating a movement, understanding that they have to show up as leaders in a very different way. But they also have a third component – their culture is aligned and it’s intentionally created to go after that future customer and to thrive with what I call, “Flux”, the flux of change. The disruptive organizations have a lot of flux and they’re able to deal with it, and organizations that don’t survive the disruption are what I call “Duck”, they’re duck and it’s very hard for them to be able to take on new changes, and especially to take on big changes.
Charlene Li: I worked with one organization and I talk about it in the book, they said, “Oh, yeah, we did this! We did this huge move, and it was really successful, but it took a lot out of us and we’re still recovering from it.” And I asked the Chief Strategy Officer, “That’s fantastic! How long ago was this?” He said, “Oh, it was two years ago.” And I’m shaking my head going, “Man, if your cycle time for making a change is two years, this is not good news. Guaranteed, your customers and the market are moving much faster than you are.” So, when you think about how well you can create disruptive changes, the disruptive organizations don’t necessarily make bigger changes; they make a lot of small changes constantly, and they’re constantly feeling paranoid that what they’re doing today isn’t good enough, so they’re constantly looking for ways to do things better. And that’s a complete mindset. That’s different than these duck organizations.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay, so I’m really trying to zero in on these. By the way, how did you come up with flux? The flux organization.
Charlene Li: I was thinking of, I guess, the flux capacitor from “Back to the Future” or something, but, more than anything else, is the flux between highs and lows. And what I found is that disruptive organizations actually do go through a cycle of change, and then they stop, creating new status quo; they’re really checking around, “We just ran really fast for 100 meters. Okay, everybody here? Everybody here. Okay, great. Now, we’ll run again another 100 meters.” They stop, make sure, “Are we all around here?” through these cycles of flux of constant change and coming back. And so, that’s what flux looks like. So, you look at their paces of change, they have these areas of recovery built-in, but they also, don’t stay there for very long, they walk and go in again.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay, good. Oh, that’s fun! And nothing like a good flux capacitor, right?
Charlene Li: Yeah.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay. Repetition is wonderful. So, you said there are three things that are really central to being successful in a transformation. One is really zeroing in on the future customers, so you have a target – where you’re going – and you’re thinking about growth; the second is it has got to become a movement so people can really engage around it. And the third, I’m not sure I got that. Did you say there’s a leader component, a leadership component there?
Charlene Li: Yeah. The second is the leadership, the movement, and the third is the culture – a culture that thrives with flux. So, strategy, leadership, and culture look really different in disruptive organizations because they approach those three things in a very different way than a non-disruptive organization. Peter Drucker had a great saying, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast every day.” And, first of all, that assumes that there is a strategy for culture to eat. A lot of times people are trying to change a culture without that foundation of a strategy, of what you are trying to accomplish with your culture. And the hard part about culture is changing it and making sure that you’re being very intentional to go after the right activities, the right beliefs and behaviors because that is what culture is made up of – just beliefs and behaviors. If you have a culture that you don’t think is right and geared towards thriving with flux and chase after your future customers, then you need to systematically change your beliefs and behaviors so they are oriented in the right direction.
Steve Shallenberger: So, as we think about a flux culture, what are some of the characteristics that you’ve seen that allow a flux culture to thrive?
Charlene Li: I saw three beliefs, in particular, that were common across disruptive organizations. The first one is the belief of openness, that information sharing, and more open and transparent decision-making processes really help develop trust and accountability in an organization. And you have better trust, it’s clear who’s accountable for what, then you can move a lot faster. The second one is agency, that people feel like they are owners in the business, and therefore they are able to take action because of the openness that’s there. And agency is different than being empowered. Empowered says that somebody gives you power, so you’re waiting for somebody to give you permission; agency says you have all the power already vested in you. You have everything that’s there and you can claim ownership and take accountability for the actions you take. And the third belief is a bias for action. As soon as you get enough data to make a decision, you’re willing to go; you can’t stand to standstill because your customers are moving faster and further away from you, so you have to constantly chase after them. So, as soon as you get minimally viable data, that’s what I call it, you’re going to be going through openness, agency and a bias for action – three key characteristics and beliefs of disruptive organizations.
Steve Shallenberger: Oh, that’s powerful! When those things are developed within a culture, they really make a difference, don’t they?
Charlene Li: Yeah, they do. And I really was struggling with this for a while, trying to find what are these characteristics? And at one point, somebody said, “Oh, it’s definitely agile processes.” And that’s true for some, but agile is just one business method, it’s a process that you use – and I can point to a lot of organizations who are “agile”, who are not disruptive. So it’s just one way to manifest some of these ideas, but if you don’t have a belief of openness and agency, the bias for action, which is where agile processes work, is very, very different. So again, I think agile is good in practice, but it’s not the secret sauce, it’s not the magic easy button that everyone keeps looking for.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay, so, Charlene, how do you hardwire a flux culture into your organization?
Charlene Li: Yeah, it’s a little hard to say. The thing here is you need an operating system – and I call it, “The Culture Operating System” – and it’s one thing that you can build and hardwire those beliefs and those behaviors into three areas: your organization, your structure, how you organize people, where you put them, and how they relate to each other. And you can do that with your process. And I think the most fascinating area is with your lore – and these are the symbols and the stories that you tell each other. And I find that disruptive organizations are very systematic, very intentional in building these beliefs into these three areas.
Steve Shallenberger: All right! Lean into the openness, and the fact that you have agency, and then you have a bias for action.
Charlene Li: That’s right!
Steve Shallenberger: Oh, well, that’s really terrific. So, as we think about this, how can leaders master a new way of developing digital and social relationships for their businesses through customers and clients?
Charlene Li: Well, I think in many ways, the relationships that leaders have are really built on their ability to see a change, communicate that change and inspire people to follow them to make that change happen. And the way that we develop relationships today aren’t just face-to-face, they’re also through these digital and social channels. And what I find so often is that leaders are very, very reluctant to move into using these digital sources as a way to communicate and then to develop relationships. One person asked me, “Who would be interested in seeing my lunch? Who cares what I had for lunch?” because their perception is people are just sharing lunches on Instagram and other social channels. And I go, “I totally hear you on this, I have no interest in what you have for lunch. What I really care about is what you talked about over lunch.” And that’s the difference between using social and digital for personal communications in your network versus leading with them. And when you show up as a leader, you’re thinking and putting first and foremost, what kind of relationship do I want to build with my followers? What do they need to hear from me today? The customers or my employees, what do they need to hear from me today, as a leader, in order to be more focused and to know that they’re doing the right thing or how they need to be changing what they’re doing. So, being able to use these tools just elevates you and takes your leadership to a completely different level. To be a successful leader today, you really have to learn how to manage and to master these tools, to be the most effective leader you can.
Steve Shallenberger: This is such a jump for so many people because it’s so hard to develop a relationship, to feel close to somebody through the Internet, through an email or something else. Have you had a struggle with that at all? The difference between kind of a one-on-one, seeing somebody, their personality, seeing their face versus digital?
Charlene Li: Well, I think it’s always a lot easier, once you have that face-to-face connection, to continue it in the digital space.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay.
Charlene Li: So, if you think about our friends that we’ve made long time ago, but they live an ocean away, a continent away – we maintain connections with them through phone calls, through emails, through posts on Facebook, through Instagram pictures; this is the way that we connect with them now, and that’s how we will continue to connect on a professional level. But one of the things I really think about is, it’s a different type of relationship, it doesn’t replace it, but it can be still really, really effective, for one simple thing: if you’re in a large organization, if you’re a leader of more than 20 people, it’s hard to see every single one of them, individually. But they still all need to hear from you, as their leader. So, how do you do that? And digital is one of the most effective ways because they hear from you every single day, “This is why we’re here. This is our purpose and what we’re being focused on.”
Charlene Li: One of my favorite examples of that is the LinkedIn CEO – Jeff Weiner. He has this habit of every time you see him, the first thing he says, “Hi, I’m Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn! Our mission at LinkedIn is connecting the world’s professionals, and one of our top values is members first.” And he says this all the time, internally, externally; and one day, an employee asked him, “Jeff, we know this. Why do you keep saying this? When are you going to stop saying this?” And he says, “I will stop saying it when people stop looking surprised.” And I think that’s so true that we, as leaders, think that we say something once and everyone’s heard it, and it’s not true. We forget, we get distracted; we focus on the things that are in front of us instead of the things that need to be future thinking, strategically. So, we need to be reminded why we’re here, how we’re working together. And frankly, we want to hear from our leaders, how are we doing along our path? How am I doing? And the only way to scale our leadership in this very complex world now – because business is so much more complex – is to use these digital tools. This is the thing, we all do this as leaders – I can’t think of a single leader who doesn’t use social media in their personal life, but when it comes to being a leader, they shut it off. If you could stand next to somebody and say something to them, what would you say? Okay, now, say those same things, in this digital channel. It’s a different channel, but you’re still saying something to them.
Steve Shallenberger: It’s really the whole package and life has changed and we want to get our message out to as many people as possible and it’s really hard to do that one-on-one.
Charlene Li: Yeah. I had one CEO that insisted, “I look people in the eye and I shake their hands!” and I’m like, “That’s fantastic! You have 10,000 employees – you can’t do that with 10,000 employees. How are you going to, literally, digitally, shake their hand, look them in the eye and give them that same sense of feeling that you are there for them?”
Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, that’s a wonderful perspective! I am stunned at how fast time goes. We’re done with our show today. Can you believe that? Man, that just flew right through!
Charlene Li: I know! We need more time! This is so much fun talking to you!
Steve Shallenberger: I know, same here. Any final tips that you would like to leave with our listeners today about disruption or about being successful in business or how to really have breakthrough growth? What are your thoughts? Any final tips?
Charlene Li: Yeah, one final thing is, it’s hard and lonely being a disrupter. You oftentimes feel like you’re the only person in the organization that can see this future, see this opportunity – and you’re thinking, “Do I see something that no one else does? I’m crazy!” And so, my tip here is to go find other disruptors in your organization, find people outside of it. I am starting a new community to help people find other disruptors locally, and hopefully, in online communities as well. And that is called Quantum Networks. The URL is quantum-networks.com. It’s free to join, we have content and hopefully you can find other like-minded souls and people because my mission here is to create as many disruptive leaders as possible, support them in their quest to create that exponential growth that they see is possible in their organizations, but also in their communities and society because, frankly, we have a lot of change that needs to be done, a lot of problems that need to be solved, and we need more disruptive leaders to be able to make that change happen.
Steve Shallenberger: Terrific idea! So fun! Oh, great! So, how can people find out about what you’re doing and about your quantum groups together? You’ve just talked about it a second ago, but tell us about that.
Charlene Li: Yeah, you can follow me and find me on my website – it’s charleneli.com. And you can find more about quantum at quantum-networks.com.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay. Well, thank you, Charlene, for being a part of this show today. It has been fun!
Charlene Li: Thank you so much again for having me on the show!
Steve Shallenberger: You bet! Well, what a great and productive visit this has been today! I don’t think I’ve ever had one that’s gone faster. We certainly wish you all the best as you’re making a difference in the world today and helping people change in disruption and leaving the world a better place. Great going!
Charlene Li: Thank you!
Steve Shallenberger: And to all of our listeners, never forget: you too, can make such a difference every single day of your life. As Charlene and I were just preparing for this podcast show today we were talking about Becoming Your Best and how becoming your best, the spirit, is at the very heart of disruption, it’s the very heart of growth, it’s this way of thinking, “What does my best look like?” And as we think that way it helps us start thinking about all of these issues we’ve been talking about today. This is what you’re doing, you wonderful listeners, as you think this way, you’re changing lives – changing yours for good, but also every single person that you meet. Well, we wish each one of you a great day! This is Steve Shallenberger with Becoming Your Best Global Leadership, signing off.
Steve Shallenberger: A quick message for you: We wanted to let you know that the Becoming Your Best 2020 Planner has arrived and, as you’re starting to set your sights on having an extraordinary year in 2020, this planner will be a tremendous resource for you. We want to let you know that, particularly this year, there is a big-time discount for you! They’re here, they’re ready to ship, so if you would like to get yours on the way, just write to us at email@example.com – you’re going to love this planner!
Welcome to our podcast listeners, wherever you may be in the world today! This is Steve Shallenberger, your host, and we have a great subject that we’re talking about today – it is gratitude, peace, and balance, and Happy Thanksgiving!
There’s a great quote by Germany Kent, it goes like this: “A funny thing about life – once you begin to take note of the things you’re grateful for, you begin to lose sight of things that you lack.” Way to go, Germany! That is well done!
And here are just a few ways to say, “Thank you” in different languages:
- In Spanish – Gracias;
- French – Merci Beaucoup;
- Italian – Grazie;
- Japanese – Arigato;
- Chinese – Do Jeh;
- German – Danke Sehr;
- Thai – Khop Khun Mak Kha (Oh, that’s a great one, isn’t it?);
- Russian – Spasiba;
- Korean – Gamsahabnida (I’m sure I slaughtered that one);
- Icelandic – Takk;
- Hawaiian – Mahalo;
- Hebrew – Toda;
- Greek – Efharisto;
- English – Thank you.
Well, these are all expressions of this feeling that we have of gratitude and what an impact it has! A group by the name of Occupational Athletes shared some great thoughts on gratitude, and I thank them for the inspiration that they’ve provided for this podcast. You’ve probably heard that living in the past can make you miserable and depressed and that living in the future can cause you to be anxious sometimes; living in your present is the happy medium that can help you feel your most positive and at the best and living in the present with gratitude can lead you towards inner peace and tranquility – and this is what Principle Number 11 from Becoming Your Best is all about, is how to live in peace and balance. We’re all unique with our own stories to tell. We’ve had, each of us, trials and triumphs, easygoing times in our lives, and stretches at times that we’ve really struggled. Everything that we have experienced in life is what makes us, us – and some of us consider ourselves positive people and some of us might look at the negative first. And no matter what type of person you tend to be, we all get carried away with the chaos of life and even those who consider themselves positive and peaceful find that there are many times when they really need to work at maintaining that positive state of mind.
What can help all of us to experience inner peace, balance, and a positive outlook is gratitude. People without a grateful mindset – in other words, “What am I grateful for?” – despite what is going on in life, they tend to be more resentful, depressed and anxious on a regular basis. There’s so much research that supports this! And just as looking at the negatives first, pessimism is a habit. Learning to be grateful, in spite of it all, can also become a habit. What a blessing!
Being grateful for everything you have, every little thing, each and every day, versus everything you don’t have, all of the bad things that happen to you, or even dwelling on what happened a long time ago, and what hasn’t happened yet, makes a huge difference in how you view life and how you let the chaos of life affect your very being. Some people do live in gratitude, but many people need to learn how to be grateful as a skill. And indeed, it is both a mindset and a skill set – practice it daily until it becomes a habit. Being grateful helps us to accept ourselves and to let go of our past – the negative parts of our past that hold us hostage.
Keeping a gratitude journal could be life-changing. A friend of mine, Terry, shared how every day he uses his Becoming Your Best planner to write down some of the things that happened that day that he’s grateful for. And this has become his gratitude journal and he uses it for life. I mean, it is so powerful! Anytime he needs a boost, he can just go back and reflect upon it at any time.
It’s interesting because I decided some time ago, this is about 25 years ago, that I would make a list of all of the things I admired and was grateful for with my wife, Roxanne. This list became very long, and anytime I started becoming a little critical of my wife, I would pull out my Spouse Gratitude Sheet, and it helped me to put things into the proper perspective. At the same time, I was reminded of how fortunate I was to be married to such an extraordinary and amazing person.
Another friend shared that when he paused in his prayers to give thanks, he found that his humility and faith increased. This friend, then, shared that this later led to greater peace and happiness in his life on a larger basis.
Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Edmonds of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. Mccullough of the University of Miami, have done much research on gratitude. In one study, they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics: one group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week; a second group would write about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and then the third, wrote about events that had affected them with no particular emphasis on being positive or negative. After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to the physician than those who focused on sources of aggravation.
Gratitude can change your life by shifting your focus on what is wrong with yourself – and the world around you – to what is right. Once you’ve begun making gratitude a part of your life, you’ll find that it becomes easier; feeling grateful will have you seeing more and more to be grateful for and positives beget more positives. And they’re just a little bonus here because studies have shown that living in gratitude can have other benefits, including enhanced heart health, increased immunity, decreased inflammation, less stress, better sleep, and enhanced relationships. I’ve talked about that in a previous podcast before. This is great research!
About two years ago, I was invited to speak to MBAs from across the nation that had gathered at the Harvard Business School. It was an extraordinary group from some of the very top business programs in the entire world. The speaker before me was a popular tenured professor at the Harvard Business School. His subject was, “The power of gratitude.” One of the activities he had the students participate in was to think of a teacher or a mentor that had had a great impact for good on their life. He then handed out a blank sheet of paper and invited each class member to write that individual a letter of appreciation and gratitude for the impact that they had had in their life. And then he gave out an envelope and had the students address it, and then, they passed that envelope back to the professor, and the professor, then, would put it in the mail. He had then invited the class members who felt impressed to do so, to call the person and actually thank them over the phone. This was an amazingly emotional experience! It was so interesting to see how quiet and subdued that the class was. There was such an overwhelming feeling of gratitude! This may be something that you might like to do. Maybe a great exercise with the family or even with a team in your organization.
During this season of Thanksgiving, may you and each one of us be determined to reflect on gratitude and having a thankful heart on a daily basis. This practice, this habit, will powerfully impact you as a person and as a leader. It will also influence all those within the radiance of your leadership and personality. Today, we thank you! We thank you, our listeners! I share my gratitude to my family members, my wonderful spouse, wife, the people I work with, have the chance to associate in community responsibilities and different associations that we work in. I feel so grateful for people that have had such a big impact in my life, for dedicated employees who are so amazing!
One of my mentors whom I respect so much, Denis Waitley – internationally acclaimed speaker and author – shared the following quote, “Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.” May this spirit abide in you and permeate your DNA in every way! And Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours today and always! This is Steve Shallenberger, with Becoming Your Best Global Leadership, wishing you a great day!
Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to all of our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners, wherever you may be in the world today! This is your host, Steve Shallenberger, and we have an amazing guest with us today. He’s not only a dear friend, but he has had such a big impact on the world. He’s a four-time New York Times bestselling author and a world-renowned speaker. His work, created over the past 30 years, has been translated into 28 languages and available in 36 different countries – my guess is probably a lot more than that. I’m so excited to have him with us today. Welcome, Joseph Grenny!
Joseph Grenny: Thank you, Steve! It’s just an honor to be with you today!
Steve Shallenberger: Oh, yeah, same here! Well, let me just tell our listeners a little bit about you and your background. He is a four-time, as I said, New York Times bestselling author! I mean that is tough to do!
Joseph Grenny: It’s kind of tiring.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, he’s a dynamic keynote speaker – I’ve had the chance to listen to him and watch him. He’s a leading social scientist for business performance, and he’s just helped people all around. So I’m thrilled to have him here. He’s the coauthor – here are the books that he’s been able to work with and develop, I might add, that have been bestsellers with more than 4 million copies in print: “Crucial Conversations” – which is a hallmark book on how to have conversations, how to communicate, and listen; “Influencer”, “Crucial Accountability” and “Change Anything“. So, these are hallmark works, and we’re just going to go ahead and get right into it. I might add a little PostScript to this, that when I was first writing Becoming Your Best, had done 40 years of research and put all this together, I put it into a manuscript; Joseph and I had a common friend in Florida, who suggested I visit with Joseph. And so we went to lunch, and he just gave me invaluable help right from the get-go. In addition to that, we discovered we had a lot in common: we’re close to the same age, we actually lived in the same city – Vallejo, California.
Joseph Grenny: That’s right!
Steve Shallenberger: Well, he has been there to help me all the way along the way. So thank you, Joseph, for that.
Joseph Grenny: It’s been a pleasure to have a friendship with you and we could go on and on about the tremendous good you do in the world. Thanks for this chance to share what’s important to us!
Steve Shallenberger: Okay, you bet! Well, we could talk about a lot of things, but today, we wish to discuss something completely different – and it is how to take a passion, a feeling, to do something good and make it a reality. So, in addition to Joseph and VitalSmarts and all the things they’ve done there, Joseph has really gone beyond. And so perhaps we could start, Joseph, by just having you give a little background of yourself: where were you raised, and maybe some things that have had a big impact on you that has helped you be where you’re at today, and then let’s dive right into The Other Side Academy.
Joseph Grenny: Sure, yeah. Well, as you said, probably one of the most auspicious places that I was raised in was Vallejo, California. So I was born in Southern California, raised primarily in Northern California. But, as you asked that question, there were three pivotal events that come to mind. One was at age 15, I was caught hacking a computer, and that was a pivotal moment. So, this was 1975, before computers really were becoming broadly available. I was a 15-year-old, I had dropped out of high school, taken a GED, intended to go to college to try to finish four years of school before I would serve a mission for my church, and I just fell in love with computers. Girls weren’t really available -because I was 15 years old, and about half the height of everybody at the college – so I hung out in the computer lab and figured out how to hack into the school systems, and the school administrator happened to come at 11 o’clock at night to check on something. He discovered I was in the lab, he ran across the hall, immediately came and grabbed ahold of the papers that I had sitting next to me that had passwords that I had harvested from all of these secure systems and then he dragged me into his office, sat me in a chair and said, “I’m not sure whether I should call the police and have you arrested or offer you a job.” That was a pivotal point because he ended up opening some doors to me that caused me to feel like I could become an entrepreneur. I ended up getting a partnership in a small computer company that was just coming online as microcomputers were available in the Bay Area, and all those exciting things were happening. So that hacking incident was a door opener for me.
Steve Shallenberger: Oh, my goodness, Joseph! I didn’t know that. How fun! What a great story! And then, of course, you got into this world of change and training, and you’ve had a great career, which continues today. One of the things that along the way Joseph has had the opportunity to do is found The Other Side Academy, and this is what I’d like to talk about today because I know Joseph and I know what a passion this is, an opportunity to serve and lift and help other people. And so, if you could tell what The Other Side Academy is, and just tell us about that group – what your vision and purpose is, the impact, and how does it work?
Joseph Grenny: Yeah, so The Other Side Academy, the briefest way of saying it, is a community that helps create profound human change. So The Other Side Academy is a two-year life skills Academy; it’s residential, it’s free, it’s entirely self-supporting and it’s primarily designed for people with the most broken lives of anyone in the world – people who are longtime criminals, drug addicts, homeless. And so, today, in Salt Lake City, our first campus – we have a second one in Denver, Colorado – there are 100 students who’ve been arrested on average 25 times, they come often with new charges. So if the students on campus were to serve the charges that they were currently facing, they’d be incarcerated for a total of about 600 years, costing the state about $30 million. But instead, they stay at this place for two years, learn to run businesses, learn to cooperate, learn to develop character and become a person they’ve never met before. And again, all at no expense to them, the government or anybody else. It’s entirely self-sustaining. So you and I, Steve, have spent our career studying and working in organizations. To me, this is one of the most remarkable organizations in the world because it’s run by some of the most broken people, but it operates at one of the highest service and quality ethics of any organization I’ve ever worked with. So it’s a pretty impressive place.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay, and so how does somebody get into The Other Side Academy? How does that work?
Joseph Grenny: Well, there are two ways in. The first is if you’ve been arrested on new charges, and you’re sitting in jail, kind of working on your case, if you decide that rather than continuing the life you’ve had, you’d like to try a different approach, you write us a letter. One of our team – which is comprised of people just like you, so these are people that have been arrested themselves and have grown up through The Other Side Academy and have reinvented their lives – they come to the jail, they’ll interview you and it’s a very rigorous, in-your-face searching kind of interview and if they believe that you’re sincere, then you’re given an acceptance letter which you can take to the judge and if the judge agrees to suspend your current sentence and allow you to try this, then you arrive at our campus. So that’s entry point number one. Entry point number two is you can walk in. So we have folks who’ve been living homeless on the streets for years, who will walk in, sit on the bench – our bench is a symbolic place that really is where your life begins again – and after you sat there for a while to be sure that you’re serious about it, you’ll be brought in and a team of our older students in the house will interview you similarly.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, you must have guards standing all around to keep these people there.
Joseph Grenny: You know, you’re asking that for an important reason. I know you know the answer, Steve. The amazing thing is, in spite of the fact that we’ve got people who were committing crimes, who were hardcore drug addicts just the day before, number one, we’ve never had a single dirty drug test in the house from the Adult Probation & Parole that comes and supervises our students. Number two, we have no guards, no therapists, no professional staff. This is a peer-run community, and so students stay because that peer pressure there becomes so profound in their desire to be part of something that’s really new and significant in their lives, that they endure some of the greatest challenges for personal change of anybody I’ve ever seen.
Steve Shallenberger: It is an inspiring place! I’ve had the good fortune and honor of being able to visit several times and even speak to residents there. They’re flat out inspirational. It’s interesting to see, they have an annual meeting where they announce organizational changes and assignments and I happened to be there. They recognize their people and this is one of the most encouraging, hopeful types of meetings that you’d ever be at, especially knowing the background. But I will never forget, Joseph, that one fellow had just come in that morning or the day before. He looked like a ghost. He was drained of everything and I was trying to just imagine what was going on in his mind as he looked around at all of these people that were full of hope.
Joseph Grenny: Yeah. And it’s shocking to them. And in fact, for some, it’s terrifying because the possibility that you could be somebody so profoundly different than who you are, creates this sense of hope and then, rather than disappoint yourself, you’re often tempted to say, “Well, I’d rather just quit and leave now rather than risk being disappointed.” So it’s terrifying, it’s scary, you’re looking around, everybody’s smiling and they’re talking to each other and they’re connected and they’re enjoying each other. Christmas, for example, is one of the most uplifting experiences you could have with The Other Side Academy and you’ll look around the room as people are receiving gifts from one another and from a generous community here and you’ll see some people just dissolving in tears, but some just numb just not sure how to take this because they’ve never experienced anything like it in their lives. It’s a really remarkable place!
Steve Shallenberger: Okay, let’s just hit this other thing that you mentioned. These people do have a purpose, and you don’t receive funds from the government, from outside groups and you’re self-sustaining. How does that happen?
Joseph Grenny: Yeah, any of your listeners who would like an inspiring experience, they should go to either Yelp or Thumbtack or Home Advisor, and type in “The Other Side Movers” – they’re in for a mind-blowing experience! They will see the moving companies from Utah pulled up in order of customer preference, and The Other Side Movers is by far, far and above head and shoulders, the number one rated moving company in the entire state, run by a bunch of felons. I mean, imagine going to market and telling the marketplace, “Hey, we’re a bunch of felons. We’d like to come into your house and move your valuables. We’ve done it before, and now we’re going to do it again.” And the market, when the students first made this offer, was understandably nervous, but over the past four years, this service and quality ethic, professionalism, compassion, caring, it has been so sustainable, that it is now this incredibly high-performing organization that will bring in about $3.5 million between it and other related enterprises over the course of a year to completely support the house. Now, here’s the magic. The magic is that the funding process for this nonprofit, for The Other Side Academy, is the same as the therapeutic process. If you want to learn how to be a decent, caring, hardworking human being, the best way to do it is to just practice being a decent, hardworking, caring human being every day. And the best way to do that is in a house where everybody is responsible for being self-reliant. So they have to make these moves work because if they don’t, we don’t get revenue; if we don’t get revenue, we don’t get clothing and food, and we can’t pay for the house. And so, all of this works the way any normal family would, it’s just we happen to have 100 children in our house.
Joseph Grenny: So seeing what happens day after day, when people go out on moves, and you get a new freshman out for the first time, who isn’t quite believing all of this PR yet, and maybe is a little bit lazy or is a little bit grumpy or a little bit of a bad attitude, what’s remarkable is their mechanism in the house, where the older students out on that move will then give feedback to that peer, to that younger peer, in a way that he doesn’t want to hear ever again. It can be direct, it can be confrontational, it can be difficult, but they’re going to let him know exactly what they think about what he did, and how it affects the reputation of this organization. And it’s that peer feedback process that is so critical to them developing a conscience but also developing a work ethic and caring about how they affect our customers.
Steve Shallenberger: Wow, I’d love to talk more about it! Just a little question for you, from your experience, Joseph, what lessons can a parent learn, to help their children and family?
Joseph Grenny: That natural consequences are the most powerful form of influence. So, as parents, we’ll often invent things or we’ll often use our impatience or our power base as a parent to try to get the child’s attention or offer consequences and discipline to them. What works in this house is that you are relentlessly and consistently exposed to feedback from the people who you have affected. And they’re just letting them know how you affected them, “You put our moving company at risk”, or “You made my life a little bit more difficult” or “You hurt one of the other students when you did this”. And that feedback is what helps us learn to care about other human beings. Our students suffer from a lack of guilt sometimes before they come and have done many monstrous things prior to arriving, but now that they’re in a community where they have to listen to how they’ve affected others, they start to learn to care. And after a few months, there’s this moment in every student’s experience where suddenly they start realizing their legs are moving faster than they thought they should, under the circumstances because they care, because they’re trying to get something done for somebody, or they speak up or reach out or share in a way that they never would have before. So, as parents, what we’re often inclined to do is punish or discipline in a way that, you know, “I’m going to give you a timeout and you’re going to sit on a chair” or “You don’t get to play with your friends” or “I’m taking away your phone”. What works best in helping people to develop a social conscience is just a community of relentless and unbridled feedback where people let each other know how they feel about the effect they’re having on them.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, thank you for adding that! And, in addition, I know that you do this, is that your residents just like a family, they also have a vision, and a purpose of why they’re there, that is so compelling, so emotional, so powerful, it gives them hope, and a reason to do that, a reason to take the feedback, so these things really work together. And I’m just so excited to see this and be part of it. Now, let’s shift gears a little bit because time goes so quickly. Let’s move back a few years before The Other Side Academy was even a reality. Would you mind sharing the backstory on this? How did the feeling come to you of this idea and how did you put it into action?
Joseph Grenny: Yeah, so it started with despair. I think it’s Hemingway who said that “Life breaks all of us and in the end, some are strong at the broken places.” We had two sons that got involved in drugs and were in and out of jail and it was heartbreaking to us and we spent these anxious nights wondering when we get that call that one of them was dead of an overdose. And as they started in and out of the judicial system, we saw firsthand how incredibly broken it was. And given that our sons weren’t so interested in our influence at the time, we made a decision. We said, “If you can’t help the people that you love most, there are others you can help. We can get busy, we can do something.” And I believe that what goes around comes around – you put more good in the world and then the things that you care about most will often get lifted in the transaction. And so, my wife and I committed to helping start this model that’s been around for decades but just has not been made available in most places in the world. We decided that we would help to start a prototype of this model, here in Utah, to serve people that we could reach out to, that wanted that kind of help. The good news is that little by little, as our sons started to turn around their lives, they started getting involved with The Other Side Academy, so it’s had an exalting influence not just on the students that arrived, but on our family as well.
Steve Shallenberger: Were there challenges and setbacks as you got it going?
Joseph Grenny: Oh, how long is the podcast? Oh my goodness! We had existential threats around every corner. So, the first was, whether or not anybody would trust us to release somebody from jail instead of sending them to jail or prison and let them live in this house and give it a shot. We had zoning challenges – who wants something like this in their backyard? We had licensing challenges – the state wanted to regulate us into oblivion. And so, one hurdle after another, we had to address many, many challenges in addition to the traditional just how do we get the startup funds to get the house going?
Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, they’re endless. But you stayed with it didn’t you?
Joseph Grenny: We did! We were clear – and I hope this is okay to say on this podcast – that this was an assignment from God. This wasn’t something my wife and I fancifully invented. If I’ve learned one thing in life, it’s that when God wants something done, as long as you dress up, show up, and work hard, you’ll find solutions.
Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, amen to that! And just a reminder to our listeners, when you have a compelling vision that just burns deep in your gut, you want to do it, you see a reason for it, just like Joseph just mentioned, it gives you the staying power to work through these things. But that’s where it starts, with the idea. And you had the idea and then you put the plan together and went to work. So, let’s just think now about our listeners. Many of us, if not all, have an idea or an inspiration or a thought – sometimes it comes from above, we just know it – what can we do to make that a reality, Joseph? What’s your advice in that regard?
Joseph Grenny: Well, I think that first and foremost starts long before that, that organizing prompting, and that is life usually taps you on the shoulders with preparatory promptings. Somebody will offer an article or a book – and many of us get too busy and we don’t bother paying attention to it – that’s life trying to prepare you for something that sometimes it might be 10 years later. As I go back, before starting The Other Side Academy, there were things that had to be put in place, things I needed to learn, connections I needed to make 10 or 15 years in advance so that all of it could come together at the right time. So the first thing is, learn to honor those preparatory promptings. One category of them is study promptings – it is the articles, books and so forth, and reading them, marking them, storing it in a way that you can access it later. The second is networking promptings. Oftentimes somebody will say, “Hey here’s so and so and I think that’s somebody you ought to meet.” Go to lunch with them, connect with them. One of the best things that happened in my life was meeting you, Steve, and the conversations we’ve had, and the difference that you’ve made in helping our students become their best selves has been significant. We wouldn’t be where we were if it weren’t for so many people like you that had come into my life, and if I did anything right, it was just responding when that prompting came to connect with that person. And then, the third is really, go forward with faith. If we had waited until we had a buttoned-down polished plan, we’d still be waiting today, and there would be hundreds of students whose lives wouldn’t have been affected for the better if we had stalled. So, if you feel that this is a prompting, this is something that you’re supposed to go do and you’ve done the homework to prepare for it, just take the first step and then you’ll figure the next two out as you go.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, this is great advice. Thanks so much for these ideas! I know they’re going to be encouraging and inspirational for our listeners. And as we wrap up today, and as we’re just sitting back and thinking we’re talking here together, wouldn’t it be great just to have all of our listeners in the same room with us just knee to knee and being able to see them?
Joseph Grenny: Yes, it sure would! And I have a mental picture of them.
Steve Shallenberger: I do, too! So, any final tips that you would like to leave with our listeners today? We’re just sitting in the same room and we’re all trying to do better, all trying to become our best to make a difference in our organizations, in our own lives, in our relationships. What would you like to say, Joseph?
Joseph Grenny: Well, I made a passing reference to something that I’ll leave as my final tip. I talked about how at The Other Side Academy it’s so critical that you create communities where people can tell the truth to each other. I think that’s one of the things we suffer from the most in our families and in our organizations – we have a difficult time just expressing the truth. And if I’ve learned one thing at the Other Side Academy in the last four years, it’s that all lasting happiness in life is a function of our capacity for truth, love, and connection. It’s not just having loving, committed relationships, but it’s within those relationships, being truthful with one another, letting one another know how we feel, and how we think, and opening up honestly and vulnerably, and even when it’s difficult to do giving feedback to one another that others need to hear. That’s the way our souls grow. That’s the way that we learn to be better human beings. And if that’s done in the context of a relationship of commitment and love, then that’s where real connection happens. So I have seen this happen time and again with the most broken people in the world and it has blessed my life immensely to learn to be as honest as they are with one another.
Steve Shallenberger: If you don’t mind, Joseph, before we end our podcast today, when you have feedback to give, how can you successfully approach another person? How do you have the courage to go forth and say, “You know, here are some feelings I’ve had and I just want to share them with you and see if we can get to a better place.”
Joseph Grenny: Well, this will be a conversation for another day, but for me, the most important is coming from a place of emotional responsibility. So if I’ve got feelings I want to share with you, Steve, about how something you did affected me, it’s for me to, first of all, acknowledge, “This is my stuff! How it’s affecting me and how I feel is about me as much as it’s about you.” And to come from that place rather than want to blame and shame and attack and accusation. If I can learn to do that and just offer that up to you and let you know so that you can look at your piece of it, then people tend to be able to hear each other far more effectively, they feel a lot safer.
Steve Shallenberger: Yeah. Okay, that’s great advice, no doubt. Okay, well, how can people find out about what you’re doing, learn more about The Other Side Academy and VitalSmarts, which is an amazing company?
Joseph Grenny: Oh, sure. And I hope while doing it, they’ll check out how to become your best self, too, that’s definitely on the reading list at The Other Side Academy. So, if people know people that ought to be at The Other Side Academy, people whose lives really are at the bottom and they need help changing and want to do it in a serious way, go to theothersideacademy.org and check it out; there’s lots of information there that will explain how it works and how to apply. Secondly, yeah, my VitalSmarts work, which really is the foundation of everything we do at The Other Side Academy, they can check us out at vitalsmarts.com, or they can go get a lot of wonderful free intellectual property at crucialskills.com.
Steve Shallenberger: Perfect! Well, thank you, Joseph, for being part of this show today!
Joseph Grenny: It’s delightful to be with you and I wish you all the best! Thanks for all the good you do in the world, Steve!
Steve Shallenberger: You bet! Well, what an inspirational visit this has been! And we share the same feelings for you, Joseph, as you’re going out and making a difference. And as each one of you work on becoming your best, you’re going to excel in work, in your relationships, and in your own life and your presence – so your accomplishments provide within you a greater capacity to realize your dreams to do these things we’ve been talking about. So we wish every one of you success with those desires as you make a difference for good, wherever you go. It’s been an honor being together with you today! This is Steve Shallenberger with Becoming Your Best Global Leadership, wishing you a great day!
Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners wherever you may be in the world today. This is your host, Steve Shallenberger, and we are delighted to have an extraordinary guest with us today. She is a Comparative Education expert, and the author of the book, “World Class: One Mother’s Journey Halfway Around the Globe in Search of the Best Education for Her Children.” Welcome, Teru Clavel!
Teru Clavel: Thank you so much for having me, Steve!
Steve Shallenberger: We’re so excited to have you and this is a particular interest, we’re having the chance to visit a little bit before we got going today and I shared with her that Becoming Your Best recently announced that we’re now introducing Becoming Your Best for students. I’m so excited to hear and have Teru share what she has experienced. Before we get going, I’d like to just tell you a little bit more about Teru. She has written columns on education for the Japan Times and the Financial Times, she’s made appearances on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS, The TODAY Show, CBS’s This Morning, CNBC’s Squawk Box and Channel News Asia. She has also been interviewed on countless radio shows and podcasts. She spent a decade raising her family in Asia, which includes Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo. She has a BA in Asian Studies and an MS in comparative international education. After two years in Palo Alto, California, Teru has returned to live in New York City with her family. So this is going to be a fun interview! To get us going today, Teru, tell us about your background, and especially including any turning points in your life that’s had a significant impact on you. What has kind of helped you come to where you are today?
Teru Clavel: Yeah, so most of my where I am today comes from my having had my kids. Basically, in 2006 I had two kids in diapers – 2 and younger – and I was in New York City, and we had the opportunity to move to Hong Kong for an employment opportunity. So, off we went, and from 2006 until 2010 we were expatriates in Hong Kong, and then, two years thereafter, from 2010 until 2012, we were in Shanghai, and then from 2012 until 2016 we were in Tokyo for four years and then moved to Palo Alto, California, and were there from 2016 until 2018. I’ll go back and say a few things, which are that my third child was born in Hong Kong in 2009. In each of these places we lived I enrolled my children in the local public schools, which is not what the typical expatriate does – they usually enroll their children in an international school where you pretty much follow the curriculum of your home country. So, my kids were entrenched in the local culture and languages of where we lived.
Teru Clavel: I’ll go back and say also that I am half Japanese and growing up, Japanese was my mother tongue and my home language. And during summers and most other vacations, I would go to Japan to be with my mother’s family and, some of that time, I actually went to school in Japan. So this notion of putting my kids in the local public schools, you would have thought would have been a little easier or natural, but they were all definitely cultural shocks because I had never been a parent to children who were foreign to those cultures overseas. So those are massive turning points for me and they inform where I am today as a comparative international education speaker, and writer, and author of my book, “World Class” where I discuss all these things.
Steve Shallenberger: We can’t wait to hear more about it! Congratulations on the book, that’s had to be thrilling. What led to writing the book in the first place?
Teru Clavel: So it was back in 2013 when the seeds were really planted. So, part of my journey, too, is that before I had children until 2004, I had a few jobs in my 20s, but primarily I went back to school right after undergrad and I went to school for interior design, which led me to run a small residential interior design company based in New York City, but I was also a host for an HGTV show. While I did have a career prior to having children – I call it BC: before children – when they were still little we went to Hong Kong and I became a stay-at-home mom, and I wasn’t working. But then, once my kids got just a little bit older, I craved going back and doing something else. So I went back and got a Masters in Comparative and International Education – it was a Masters in Science, so that was a lot of politics, economics, anthropology, sociology courses – and that led me to get back in the trenches of reading and writing and thinking critically, that led me to become a journalist. So along this path – I’m getting to why I started this book idea – I thought, “Wow, I have this unique experience and perspective on not only having an academic background and then a journalistic background in examining education systems in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and then Tokyo – because I was an education journalist – and I have the personal experience because my kids are enrolled in the public schools of these countries.” So, in 2013 was when I really had the idea to write the book, but it only really crystallized for me when I came back to the US in 2016 and my kids were in the US public schools did I see, “Oh wow, now I get it – what US parents are dealing with in educating their children.” And I thought, “Okay, I have this social responsibility to write this book to share what I have learned that could help US parents from my experiences overseas.”
Steve Shallenberger: Oh, I’m so glad you provided that background because it really helps give us a context. And I’m so glad that Teru has this spirit of becoming your best.
Teru Clavel: I try. I hope we all try to a certain degree, yeah.
Steve Shallenberger: That’s good! Okay, well, what are some of the personal challenges? And by the way, I’m just doing the math. That means your children are about 10 and 15, right in that zone, right?
Teru Clavel: That’s exactly right! My oldest is 15, my second is turning 14 in a couple of months, or in one month I should say. My youngest is now 10.
Steve Shallenberger: This is game-time right now, this is fun!
Teru Clavel: It is! So I have one in high school, one in middle school and one in elementary school.
Steve Shallenberger: That’s cool! Alright, so, let’s go back and talk about your journey – and this is going to be fun, especially, I know our listeners are going to be tuned into this today. So, what are some of the personal challenges you faced and overcame having raised your three children in so many countries and having moved so often?
Teru Clavel: Yeah, I mean, there were so many challenges, and I can go through it, I guess, chronologically, the way my book, “World Class” was written – it was the framework for it. We were in New York, and it’s a very competitive preschool application process to get into the more “elite preschools”, and we took off, and I was really happy to go to Hong Kong because I thought, “Wow, we can escape all this!” When we got to Hong Kong, I didn’t know what an expat was – and it is short for expatriate – and I didn’t know what life was going to be like. It was a very intentional decision for us to move out of the very typical expatriate building, to not send our children to an international preschool, and we moved to a very local area where we were really the only non-local Hong Kong Chinese. And then, my kids, I enrolled them in a school – my two little ones at that point – that was nicknamed, “the prison” because it was really bare bones. And yeah, I mean, one mom pulled me aside and said, “Are you crazy?” But the thing was that my children received an education that was, I forget, maybe 75% in Mandarin, and about 25% they had English instruction, and it was a half-day program, and it was a four-year preschool because compulsory education begins in grade one there. And it was a phenomenal experience, ultimately! I couldn’t speak the language Mandarin at the time, and it was very hard for me to communicate with the teachers, so I had to put a lot of faith and trust in what was going on because I couldn’t really follow. And my kids loved school. So, that was a big change and struggle for me.
Teru Clavel: And then, when we moved to Shanghai, this was 2010, and we decided again, to live locally, and we moved into an ex-communist tenement, and I was very naive, I didn’t really know what that meant, I just wanted to have a full cultural immersion. What that meant was that we didn’t often have hot water in our home and the Wi-Fi was a luxury if we had it continuously – it was very spotty. We had cockroaches, termites, rats. And even thinking back, actually, just going back to the story of the hot water, there were so many times that I had to boil the hot water on the stove and take it to the bathtub – numerous, numerous pots – to try to bathe my young kids in a bathtub, that wasn’t an ice-cold water. And my son was in elementary school, he was in first and second grades while we were there, in a local public school. They didn’t have flushing toilets, so if they had to use the bathroom, it was in a trough that got run with water at the end of every day. There was no heat, so he basically wore a snowsuit to school every day. What’s interesting is my kids thrived in this system, but it was really hard for me. I mean, there was this joke in Shanghai at the time, now while it’s a cashless society, back then, we would walk around with huge wads of cash because everything was cash and the largest denomination was $10. But they got a superb education there, and it was really just more of a struggle for me.
Teru Clavel: I would say there were just lots of misunderstandings because I didn’t really understand the education system. I’m sure we’ll get into it a little later, too, but there was one time when my son was kept after school and I had three kids in a country that had a one-child-only policy, and when he was kept after school, to me, that meant that I couldn’t pick up my other two kids, nor could I communicate with that other school to let them know I was going to be late; and I didn’t understand, was he in trouble? Because in the US, there’s a common assumption that if your child is kept after school, it’s because there’s some kind of a behavioral issue. I couldn’t communicate with my son’s classroom teachers to what was going on, so I was getting all upset, just outside the classroom, waiting and waiting for him. And an hour later he came out, and it was basically just that he didn’t understand the math lesson that day because he hadn’t received what was considered a mastery grade of 95%. And this is in first grade, right? And the teacher stayed with him for as long as it took until he understood the concept – and that was a common practice.
Steve Shallenberger: Wow! That’s amazing!
Teru Clavel: So, it gets you thinking, from a US perspective, what is the definition of mastery? Is it a number? How many times do kids really need to have, to master that content? And what is the community going to do to provide the scaffolding necessary for the child to master that content? So there were just misunderstandings that I had to get over, and ultimately, I was so thankful for the really superb education and dedication of the teachers there. And it went on. There were plenty of challenges in Japan and in Palo Alto as well – I don’t know if you want to continue on with us, but, you let me know, Steve.
Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, well, in short, you’ve just seen a lot of different sets of education and approaches and the impact. I mean, I have so many thoughts running through my mind, and so, it put you in a unique position to see some of the things that have really worked well and maybe some of the things that haven’t worked well.
Teru Clavel: Sure! And so, I can tell you, when we got – and I’ll skip over Japan where we were for four years and we can go back to that from a different perspective or a different angle – when we got back to the US, that was in Palo Alto in 2016, the learning expectations, I found, were so much lower and we were hit with a school district which was considered at the time by rankings – and I have a lot of issues with the actual rankings – but it was considered the best school district in California at the time. Within one year, all five of the secondary school heads, resigned, the superintendent quit, there was so much contention and inner turmoil and turnover for so many varied reasons. My fifth grade – my son – had five classroom teachers that year; in sixth grade, there were no less than 10 animated films that he saw, and none of my kids were actually challenged. Well, my elementary school daughter was, but it didn’t feel like, especially compared to where we had come from, in Asia, they didn’t have the same level of rigor that they had had overseas. And it was just a confounding experience that really made me kind of scratch my head and think about the reversed culture shock that we were experiencing coming back home, to our home country, and what was going on in the school district that was considered “the best” in California.
Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, that’s a big turnover. That makes it really disruptive, hard on students. I know that when I grew up, I had one teacher at each grade, and they stayed there and you really developed a relationship and I’m just reflecting on that, and that’s got to be so disruptive. It makes you grateful for having some stability. But that’s just part of it, right? There’s a whole lot more. Think about the education your children have received, an international perspective. I bet that’s had quite an impact on them.
Teru Clavel: Absolutely! I mean, something that occurred to me, just recently, was my oldest, who’s now in ninth grade, he has only started the start of a school year at a new school once, and he’s now, I think, on his eighth school because we moved so much and hopefully that’s not going to change. He has one more school to go to, he is going to a different school – his school ends at the end of ninth grade – but hopefully, he’ll start the 10th grade the first day of school and continue. But what it has really done is it has given them the ability to be adaptable because they’ve just had to, by necessity. That is a great life skill, and I often hear, “Kids are so resilient, they can do anything.” I actually think that’s not accurate. I think, kids, yeah, maybe they’ll survive, but they need scaffolding and support. My kids went to these different school districts and school systems in different languages and cultures – I hired college kids to come after school to help them with their homework if they needed, to help them with their languages, I met with the teachers so regularly and was in regular communication with them because they were coming into school systems where either they didn’t speak a word of the language, in the beginning, or they were literally the only non-native student of that classroom or that entire school. So, in Shanghai, my oldest was the only non-Chinese student in his elementary school amongst over 1000 students. I think it has also taught them a great deal of empathy because they experienced being the outsider and they were welcomed and the people around them were so kind to include them in their communities and gave them the support they needed.
Steve Shallenberger: These are some great insights. Do you talk in your book about the role of parents? I mean, just think about how important your role has been in creating the scaffolding, the stability and I would think, even in a place where there’s more stability and maybe even a greater need, where the education standards may not be up to what you were hoping they would be. So, do you talk about that in the book – the role of the parent or the grandparent?
Teru Clavel: Absolutely! I talk about it right upfront. My whole book is written for parents and teachers. In Asia, the parent involvement is so clear and the expectations so delineated, where we were in Shanghai and in Japan. In the US, it can be really confusing because you don’t have the same clarity. You can be on the PTA, you can be an assistant in the library, you can go to parent education, and none of it is mandatory. But I can tell you, in Japan, there were actually some mandatory parent education sessions, whereby if you couldn’t go, you had to write a letter and opt-out. There was required parent involvement in my children’s school in Japan, where you had to devote a year of volunteering for every child you had in the elementary school. And that’s pretty common practice in Japan.
Teru Clavel: So, when I got back to the US, and I’m very clear about this and I write this very directly to parents in “World Class”, the US is so diverse – multiracial, multilingual, belief systems, on and on – and not everybody comes from a family where there is a stay-at-home guardian. But, what is also happening is, I call the US “The Great American Swiss Cheese” because it’s full of holes. We don’t have a curriculum where, let’s say the second-grade teacher knows what happened in first grade and knows how to teach and prepare for third grade – and there are so many curricular changes and innovations, typically, within the public school system, that there are lots of holes created. And with the advent of technology, also, it’s very easy for kids to just kind of pass through areas that they don’t really like. What do we do about that? I feel like, unfortunately, it is incumbent upon parents in this country to fill those gaps and to be as informed as possible on what the kids are learning and what they’re not, because teachers don’t necessarily know what those gaps are anymore.
Teru Clavel: And then, what happens is, if you have parents who maybe don’t speak English as a first language, and the US education system is foreign to them, maybe the child comes from a dual-income family or maybe the parent even works a night shift and isn’t home that often, then what’s happening in this country is that we have to have community supports in place, whether at the school level or at the larger district community level to help those kids and it has to start very, very early – it has to start at zero until five or six, until the child starts kindergarten, and then thereafter, because what’s happening is, kids are starting kindergarten in this country and they’ve never read or touched a book. Sure, they may have been behind a screen, a smartphone or an iPad, but they’ve never even had to read before. And some kids don’t even know how to use scissors. And then, you have other kids who come in, reading chapter books. We have to stem that inequity that comes in right at the starting gate, which should be, but it’s not happening.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, that’s a big-time role. Big time role! I’m glad that you’re talking about it. Well, let’s shift gears a little bit and just think about this whole idea of a changed world. Why is it so important to teach our current and next generations about globalization and global competence?
Teru Clavel: What I think is happening, especially now, our country is becoming more introspective and we’re not looking at what’s going on in the rest of the world. Whereas, if you look at those countries that are thriving, both with their children social-emotional development, academic outcomes, they are very global in their outlooks and they know what’s going on, and they embrace that globalization – not only do they teach their children what’s going on in current events, but they’re also collaborating with other countries, learning other languages. And it’s not just what’s going on necessarily in China and Japan, but it’s what’s going on in Scandinavian countries. I mean, we are one of the only monolingual countries that educates in one language. And we can say that’s because well, you know, so many people speak English and we have the world’s best universities and everybody just comes here to learn English, but what that does is it prevents our children from learning about other countries and other practices, which actually also lends itself to empathy and compassion. While other countries are, I don’t know, if you look at the number one, two and three world economies, we’re looking at China, the US and Japan – we have to raise a generation that is able to not only compete on a global level, because we are becoming, with technology, more interconnected than ever before. Our kids need to learn how to collaborate with those other countries, and also, therefore, know how to compete with them. And right now, we’re not doing a good job of that. I do believe we’re being way too – I don’t want to say nationalistic – but just really oriented towards only focusing on what’s going on in the United States, and we’re getting behind as a result.
Teru Clavel: And I will add that just yesterday, our Nations Report Card – the NAEP – came out that showed that fourth and eighth graders are actually behind where we were a couple of years ago, in 2017, in reading and in math. Our international scores, academically, are also either flat or decreasing in reading, science, and math, according to the OECD’s PISA scores – the test that’s administered to 15-year-olds every three years – and that result is coming out at the beginning of December of this year. So, we’re behind the eight ball, and I do talk about this in “World Class”, where, if you want to look at a country’s future, look at what’s going on in the classrooms, and you’ll get a great snapshot.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay, well, that’s good! And I’ll tell you, it’s good to really have a wake-up call, it’s good to step back and think about it and take a good look. We’re grateful for our 20 grandchildren, it’s interesting as a grandparent, at this point, and I still feel plenty young.
Teru Clavel: Yeah, yeah.
Steve Shallenberger: And teaming up with my parents and then, you’re right with the school system. I mean, this is a community effort, but there’s just no dodging the responsibility we all have, and to try to help those that don’t have it, but we have two of our grandchildren, who have a Japanese background, I might add, live locally, both have been in Chinese immersion for eight years now. It has had such an impact! I mean, they just see everything so differently. They see the world differently, and it just really underscores this, how important it is, and 20 years ago, when three of our six children were younger, we lived in Madrid, Spain for three years and had a similar experience. So, to be able to have this contrast and this globalization of helping our kids see this picture on a broader basis is so important, so I’m glad that you’re addressing it and bringing it up. Good going!
Teru Clavel: Thank you, I hope it’s effective!
Steve Shallenberger: Well, I think it is good to talk about it. Well, time is running out fast – I have just a couple of final questions here. What is, from your perspective, Teru, the single most important thing parents and teachers can take away from your book, “World Class”?
Teru Clavel: I would say we have to shift our thinking and prioritize our children and their education levels and dig a little deeper and figure out, as our children’s academic scores go down, their anxiety levels are increasing, and the suicide rate is not only increasing, but it’s starting at a younger age. We have all kinds of issues that our children are dealing with. A lot of them don’t feel safe in their classrooms, right? They practice lockdown drills now, it’s not just a fire drill, like when we were growing up. What I want listeners to hear – and I talk about this in “World Class” – is to figure out practices and what we as adults are doing to create this country and these classrooms, that are negatively affecting our kids. Because we are creating this, we are responsible, and we have to think about the future of our country, and the future of our kids if they’re feeling unsafe. And it has to do with parents, we have to take responsibility for it, and we’re the only ones who can shift this dynamic. So I guess, if there’s two words, I would say, “Dig deep!”
Steve Shallenberger: Okay, dig deep. And any final tips you’d like to leave our listeners with, today?
Teru Clavel: I would say I love having these discussions about education, please talk to everybody about it. Pick up “World Class” – it’s a book that talks about all these things – and sometimes it’s hard for parents to want to figure out if they can shift in their parenting and education styles and their thinking, but I will say it’s never too late, please pick up “World Class” and if you do, I hold your hand and talk through this really hard parenting and education decisions and be in touch with me. I offer coaching, individual counseling, a webinar, and I speak to schools and groups of parents and educators and to students as well. I think we have to be critical in our thinking and let’s try to make a positive change! I hope we can start with “World class”! Read my book, please, and reach out and talk to me.
Steve Shallenberger: Sounds great! How can they find out about it? Where can they find it?
Teru Clavel: So, please come to my website, it’s teruclavel.com and I’m on social media, please reach out to me via Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Have these conversations. I have a Youtube channel as well, with some of my work, but yeah, stay in touch, please!
Steve Shallenberger: Okay, good. Well, I’ve been listening to Teru here, especially at the end and thinking about this and the challenges that there are in our education – I remember being in sixth grade, standing in line for lunch, we were in the middle of the Cold War. And so, our exercises were in the event of an atomic bomb siren going off – we had drills of what to do. So I was just thinking about this, there’s great hope for the future, and for the world. We just can’t give up! We need to keep trying. We just can’t say, “I can’t do anything about it.” And maybe that’s the message of your book, is that you can do something about it and that it’s important to have this hopeful attitude, this hopeful spirit because we believe the best is in front of us, for our country and for the world, generally – we’re not in this alone, right?
Teru Clavel: Yeah, it’s a great point. It’s a great point about the drills you had during the Cold War, but I also feel like we were united as a country, at that time, as well. Right now, I hope that we can come together more as a country and have civil civic discourse and dialogue where we can really empathetically and kindly listen to differing opinions, instead of being internally combative the way it feels right now, and that definitely has an impact on our kids that we have to consider.
Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, I totally agree. And I would like to just suggest there’s great hope for the future as we work on these things. So, thank you, Teru, for being part of this show today. It’s been such an interesting insight and very helpful. And to our listeners, this whole spirit of becoming your best, that’s what we’re talking about today. It’s not until people really say to themselves, “How can we be our best? The very best we can be?” that allows us to search for new ways, and we would suggest that as answers come and as you go through this process, what happens is you become better, and your family does, and your relationships, and the organizations you’re associated with. And the bottom line is, if we do this, we create a better world. So, we’re honored to each of our listeners to be here today. Thanks again Teru, for joining us!
Teru Clavel: Thank you so much for having me, Steve!
Steve Shallenberger: You bet! This is Steve Shallenberger, with Becoming Your Best Global Leadership, wishing you a great day!
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Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to all of our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners! This is your host, Steve Shallenberger. We’re so excited to have you with us, and we have a very special guest with us today. I’ve been looking forward to this podcast. She is the founder of Duarte Inc. – the largest creative firm in Silicon Valley, and one of the top women-owned businesses in the area. Duarte Inc. is a global leader behind some of the most influential visual messages in business and culture, and they work with 200 of the Fortune 500 companies. Welcome, Nancy Duarte!
Nancy Duarte: Thanks for having me. I’m so happy to be here!
Steve Shallenberger: Same here. We’re excited! And I’ll just give our listeners a little background on Nancy and then we’ll turn to her and perhaps she can tell us about her story and things that have led to where she is today. Nancy is a communication expert, who has been featured in Forbes, Wired, The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and CNN. She has also been a contributor to the Harvard Business Review. As a persuasion expert, she cracked the code for effectively incorporating story patterns into business communication. She’s written five best-selling books. Way to go, Nancy!
Nancy Duarte: Thank you!
Steve Shallenberger: She’s won a number of awards for that and on the list of the Top 250 Women In Leadership, Nancy ranked 67th; and on the World’s Top 30 Communication Professionals for 2017, she was ranked number one!
Nancy Duarte: That is a long bio!
Steve Shallenberger: I was telling her before we started, how fun it is to have someone like her on this show today. She’s also spoken at numerous conferences; her TEDx talk has over 2 million reviews. She speaks at business schools and lectures at Stanford University a few times a year. Well, here we go, Nancy, shall we dive right into this?
Nancy Duarte: Yeah, I’m excited!
Steve Shallenberger: Tell us about your background, Nancy, especially including any turning points in your life that have had a significant impact on you, and maybe even ultimately led to where you’re at today.
Nancy Duarte: Yeah, that’s a great question. I guess a whole bunch of little turning points make for a great adventure right? I got married really young, I got married at 18, so that was a big one, and it was awesome because I’m still madly in love with the man I married but, I think the one that might be more interesting to your audience is more business-related. What I did, I think one of the biggest turning points that happened in my career was one that was a massively counterintuitive move, when the .com crash was happening or the.com bubble burst. So the economy was really poor in the Silicon Valley and the business contracted by about 25% overnight – and I guess you could say the data would say we were in a downturn or in a state of decay – and I did something that was really counterintuitive in that season. Jim Collins’s book “Good to Great” happened to come out in that same time frame and in it, he has a hedgehog concept. And the hedgehog concept says that if there’s one thing you could do in the world that you’re best in the world at, passionate about, and can be profitable, do just that one thing. So here was the season where the economy is constricting, and we had four services at the time – we did print, web, multimedia, and presentations – and I closed three out of four of those services and chose to focus just on presenting. That was the most fundamental turning point in our business, and it was also the one that was the most counterintuitive because if you think about an economy downturn, a lot of people add to their services, they don’t take away from them. And that took a lot of guts and commitment, and it was the best thing I ever did.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay, well, that’s great! Let’s come back and talk about that, here, in a few minutes. Where were you raised? Tell us about that. Tell us about where you grew up.
Nancy Duarte: Yeah. So, I grew up mostly in California. I went to junior high in a little small town in northern California, called Chico, but then I went away for high school and a year of college to Mississippi, and that’s when my love, my husband, Mark, came and got me from Mississippi and came back to California. So he and I actually met in junior high, which is crazy, but that’s kind of where I’m from.
Steve Shallenberger: Wow, you mean Mark went and found you in Mississippi and took you back home?
Nancy Duarte: Yeah, he did.
Steve Shallenberger: How fun! That’s great! Well, let’s get back to this big decision, your counterintuitive decision of really focusing on one area. Tell us about this area that you’ve been working on.
Nancy Duarte: Yeah, so we focused solely on presentations because we knew we were really, really good at it. I remember that in 1999, 2000, the default of most of the presentation tools created hideous slides as a default, they were just ugly – I don’t know if people really realize how much we’ve come along in the last 20 years there. So, I had a service business, we would write and produce really amazing talks for you and slides and stuff. And so, we focused just on that. Within eight years of that focus, I wrote my first book, “Slide:ology” – and I thought I just wrote a book, I put a book out there, and it did really well, and then the phone started to ring for training. And I thought, “Oh, we’re not a training business, but I’ll build one.” So now, we’ll either create your slides for you and your talk – we’ll work on your strategy, your story, your slides and coach you in your delivery. So whether we do it for you, or we could teach you to be really excellent at it yourself. So that’s our whole training business and that’s growing like crazy. So that’s been really fun.
Steve Shallenberger: So what you did is you’ve scaled that business and really focused on and expand in that. What are the services that you provide to your customers?
Nancy Duarte: So, on the services side, we will help write a communication strategy because to really drive change as a leader, you really have to think through it strategically – and we do that through story exercises – we will help you write your content, and we will, like I said, build your slides and your delivery. So we work with execs, get them ready for the stage, help them with their thought leadership platform, really make them stand out amongst other CEOs, as smart thought leaders. And then, we also work with brands. So we work a lot with brand communications, we help a lot with events – really large staged events that are just stunning – but we also make brilliant sales enablement packages, work on corporate overviews, lots of marketing materials, because a lot of that’s done in presentation software tools now.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay. Well, I’m just going to stay on the business side a few more minutes, then I’d like to go back and really talk about, specifically, how you do this. It sounds like you’re really doing great. Congratulations! I mean, that’s awesome! Ain’t that wonderful?
Nancy Duarte: We have a lot of fun, yeah! I feel like what we do is just spectacular and fun.
Steve Shallenberger: So, as you’ve been growing the business since that time, 1999 to 2000, and you really focused on presentations, you’ve probably learned a lot, would be my guess, may have had a setback or two. Do you want to talk about any of those? Of how you just kind of pivoted and learned to stay focused, to get positioned in a great place?
Nancy Duarte: Yeah. It’s hard sometimes to stay focused because we get tempted by a lot. I think I have some of the brightest storytellers and the brightest visualizers, visual thinkers, and so, we get questions all the time, “Hey, can you make a great big brand identity? Can you do this huge video project?” And we have to say “no” a lot. And we try to be what we call, “generous experts”. That means if we do turn someone down, we either turn them to someone who can help them or we give them away something for free, because we need to feel good about telling someone “no” – and telling someone “no” is hard sometimes – so we try to be really clear on what we’ll take in. We just also had to make a scorecard, so even when we do think maybe some clients are a great fit, we have a way to filter ones out, because we’re just so busy and to stay focused, we have to be really focused and fierce about it.
Steve Shallenberger: All right! Well, let’s talk about, specifically, some of the things that our listeners can learn from what you do, some advice that you have for them. How do you define a story in relation to communicating data?
Nancy Duarte: I love that question! So even though we’re known for presentations, if you think about communicating data, that is a communication problem, and when I say the word “story”, I don’t mean fiction or fairy tales. I’m talking about the construct of a story, the three-act-story structure, that’s just so timeless and so powerful as a communication device. So, now that we can hook up fMRI machines to the brain, we can actually see what’s happening in the brain while the story is being told. While the story is being told, our brain does very specific brain activities. One of them is that, like, if I was telling you a story, right now, my brain and your brain would be firing in the exact same order and synchronize – they tick at the same time together. The other thing that happens is that all of the sensing parts of the brain light up, and there’s really no other medium that can do that. So, when communicating data, there’s a structure you could use, it’s a three-act-story structure. Our brain, like I was just saying, is wired to understand and comprehend the structure. So, if you have a new dig through your data, you found a problem or an opportunity in your data, you can actually frame your problem or opportunity you found in the data in a three-act-story structure. That way people will see it, they’ll understand it, and you’ll be able to make a decision about it quickly. So it’s a lot of framing it in the shape of a story, it actually makes it so clear it helps with decision-making.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay. And so, what’s act one, act two and act three? Can you give us an example?
Nancy Duarte: The point of view is what you’re creating, you have to form a point of view about the data by finding out what is the problem and the opportunity that’s actually in the data. And then, the three-act-story structure is a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning of any great story establishes the protagonist or the hero as likable; the middle is the messy middle – in a movie or a story, this is where the boy loses the girl, is impaled by a monster, has to climb out of a ravine and still hit the soccer ball over the goal, whatever; and then, it usually ends, in western story structures – it has a happy ending – would be the third act. So, if you look at the three acts, what happens is, in the first act, you say, “Oh, this is the problem or the opportunity I found in the data.” The middle is the data that you want to see changed – you either want it to go up or go down – and then the ending is, “If we make these changes in the messy middle, the third act will have a happy ending, and if we take these actions, this is how we will fix this messy middle.” Basically, the middle is the number that you want to see changed because data is historical – how we behave today could change most future data. So the middle is, “This is what I found in the data and I want this particular data point to change.” And then, the third act is, “If we all go and do this action, this is how we will change the messy middle of the story.” So it is a much more articulate three acts than that.
Steve Shallenberger: It helps you think about the data and what you want to accomplish and puts it into a process you can deal with.
Nancy Duarte: Exactly! And it’s not formulaic. People that work in data, if you think about it, they’re kind of analytical, and they like structure, and they like constructs and they like ways, and for some, it’s not as natural to communicate in those analytical positions as it is for others. So it just gives them a nice construct to make sure it’s very clear what you’re saying in the data as an analyst or as a business owner, and then it’s just a super simple way to communicate really clearly what needs to be done about what you found.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay! And is this the process for transforming numbers into inspirational narratives to drive action and get results that you’ve just described?
Nancy Duarte: Yeah, so that’s kind of this three-act structure. I think the process of turning the numbers into narratives it’s also word choices. I think it’s kind of a different part of your brain that crunches numbers versus carefully crafts word choices. So, part of it is understanding that analyzing the numbers is very critical thinking, but wrapping words around the number is creative thinking. So they’re two different kinds of modalities, and you need to make sure you kind of understand that. Because if you approach how you craft the narrative around it, analytically, it’s just not going to be that interesting of a narrative.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, I hope I can ask this next question, right. Regardless of whether it’s a multi-billion dollar company, or really a two or three employee company, anybody that’s trying to get their message out, has to struggle with this. How do I tell my story? How do I put it in words? What have you found the best way to do this? Storytelling techniques or ways to hone your message? What’s your advice to our listeners? Because that’s a hard one. How do you take this message with so much noise in the world and especially if you have a really great product and you’re trying to describe it correctly?
Nancy Duarte: That’s a good question. So, one of the things you have to do when you’re describing your product is not make it all about your company and not make it all about you, but to make it all about whoever it is that’s using or buying the product, because really, your product should help someone else get unstuck. And that’s a storytelling principle, where so many times the company thinks they’re the hero of the story, and in reality, their customers are the hero of the story. Their customers are going along in their own life and suddenly, this product or service enters and helps them get unstuck or it becomes this useful tool that they needed. And sometimes we forget to flip the narrative, and when we talk about a product, it’s like, “Our product has these features, and our product is awesome!” – it’s not really about, “This product is going to change you and make your human flourishing amazing!” And so, that’s one thing about the product.
Nancy Duarte: When you stand on a stage and communicate, I studied, for a long time, the greatest speeches of all times and I wanted to figure out what is it that they do – there’s like a rhythm and a cadence and this power and almost like an energy that comes off the stage and hits you in the face. And I thought, “What are they doing?” Because it felt like they’re using some sort of attributes of storytelling, maybe, that no one has ever seen. And they do – they create this rise and fall and then this rise and fall, and it’s this cathartic release. And so, my book “Resonate” covers how great communication is. And my TED Talk has a couple of million views now – it covers how you can use, from storytelling, that rise and fall that everyone loves about a great story and how you can apply it to your speeches and your talks, even your meetings. I can get my husband to do chores for me using this structure, it’s awesome. It’s like a story that helps you get influence and stuff.
Steve Shallenberger: Don’t teach it to my wife! So, we’re talking about storytelling techniques. What are some really great storytelling techniques that help people do that – kind of create this crescendo and just blow people away?
Nancy Duarte: Well, there are a few things. Like, if you’re talking about a formal presentation versus communicating data, which is completely different, I think every time you have a high-stakes talk – it could be an all-hands meeting, it could be a super important sales meeting – like, when it’s really high stakes, there’s this thing that we call, “a STAR moment”. And STAR is the acronym for Something They’ll Always Remember. Like, if they were to be chattering around the water cooler afterward, what is it that you’d want to have repeated and keep going and take on a life of its own? And those moments have to be designed by you. I mean, maybe you say something stupid, and that’s the water cooler talk – hopefully you don’t – but, how do you design this moment is either a story or it’s an emotional image or a shocking statistic or there’s a handful of ways you can create this moment – it could be a demonstration that blows people’s minds. But it’s something they’ll always talk about or something they’ll always remember at the end, and I think that’s important.
Nancy Duarte: Another thing that’s really important is how you end it. How do you end your talk? And one of the things I discovered in the speeches I wrote, is they all end with what I named, “The new bliss”. They all paint a picture of what the future is going to look like with this idea adopted, what the future is going to look like. Like, Dr. King, even Nehru, and Gandhi and very famous people, they paint a picture of, “This is what the world is going to look like in the future if we’re free.” Or Steve Jobs – “This is how I’m going to give you revolutionary new products in the future.” And that was Steve Jobs’ new bliss – “I’m going to continue to get you new revolutionary products.” So they all end with this promise that the future is going to be different and they paint that picture very clearly at the end.
Steve Shallenberger: Lovely! Those were great thoughts! I love it! STAR – Something They’ll Always Remember. Good! And then, you design the moment and then finish with the promise of the future – if they do X, this is what they can expect. Great advice! Let’s switch that around a little bit. What are some ways that award-winning brands communicate data?
Nancy Duarte: Oh, I love this story! So, because I have this service business I kind of talked about in the beginning, we’re here in the Silicon Valley, and we have had the privilege, the humbling privilege of working with the highest performing brands in the world. So I’ve been at this for 31 years, which is ancient, there are so many younger people than me, today. But anyway, we’ve been doing this for a heck of a long time and what I did is I went into our archives, I took our seven highest-performing brands, the ones that performed the best on the stock exchange and as a brand. I pulled their data slides, I pulled out all the data from about 2000 slides that had data on them, and what I did is I looked at the type of chart they chose – obviously, I was looking at what were they trying to say? What chart did they choose? And what words did they choose to put on that slide to support that chart? And I looked at all the parts of speech – what were the nouns, what were the adverbs, what were the verbs, what were the adjectives – I literally geeked out, I had all these spreadsheets, tallied things. What was interesting is there were two findings there that I thought were the most profound. One of them is that when high performing brands are talking to a broad audience, they only use three types of charts. Even though these brands probably generate more data than any other brands in the world, when they’re communicating to a broad audience, they either use a pie, a bar or a line. So all these fancy business intelligence tools and chart making things, it was very interesting to me to see that when they really, really want to make it clear, they’re using a universal visual language of chart types, that everyone knows. That was interesting! I was disappointed because I thought, “Oh, I know! Oh my God, I’m going to be the first person to come up with this crazy chart chooser that it’s going to blow the minds of everyone.” No, that didn’t happen, and I was actually disappointed initially, like, “What the heck? Why are they only using three?” And then I thought, “Wow, that’s actually kind of profound in its own simple way.”
Nancy Duarte: And then, the other thing I found that was fascinating was the word choices, and specifically the verbs. What was the verb or the action that they associated with a chart? Because that means, “Hey, this data happened, therefore, let’s do this ‘verb’ because of the data.” And verbs are important because that’s the activity that you’re asking people to do because of the data, and that was fun! So I captured and tallied all the verbs, and then looked at them, and I originally sorted them into four categories, but then, one of my brilliant content people was like, “Oh my gosh, Nancy, you could simplify this down to two.” And there were two types of verbs there. One type of verb was a performance verb – which is almost like a KPI, it’s a big, strategic verb – and the others were process verbs – and those are the actions that you do in service of making a KPI happen. And so, that was fascinating! And there’s a whole page in my book about verbs and how they kind of tuck under each other and how you use them in association with data. That was fun. Because I am a pattern finder, I like finding patterns, I like uncovering insights maybe other people hadn’t seen, so that was really, really fun! And I had a really good time!
Steve Shallenberger: That is fun, isn’t it? When you can dig into the stuff like that and come out and you have these a-ha moments, saying, “Yeah, this is something that makes a difference!”
Nancy Duarte: Yeah, it really does!
Steve Shallenberger: Which book is that one in?
Nancy Duarte: That’s in “DataStory“. That’s the premise, practically, of the whole book. That’s the one that just launched in September.
Steve Shallenberger: Good! Well, we wish you well with that!
Nancy Duarte: Thank you! Thank you very much!
Steve Shallenberger: Okay! Well, I’m always amazed by how fast time flies in this podcast. So, before we end the day, this has been so interesting, so many juicy tidbits here that we can use and kind of warm things up. What final tips could you leave with our listeners, that you think would be most important for them?
Nancy Duarte: I think I’ll stay within that data category, and that would be that there’s this moment in every career, like, if someone listening to this has a job where your role is primarily data, there’s a decision you could make that will be a real career-maker, and that is to work on your communication skills. That’s like a career threshold thing, like, you may always stay an individual contributor if you don’t learn to be a communicator. This book was written for them, and what happens is when you add communication skills to your data skills, you wind up moving from an individual contributor to a trusted advisor. And becoming a trusted advisor is like the gateway drug to becoming a leader. And so, if you have dreams of becoming a leader, learning how to communicate data is a critical, critical skill that you need to add to your tool belt.
Steve Shallenberger: Oh, I love it! And I’ll bet your book helps!
Nancy Duarte: It does! That’s why I wrote it. So, all of us geeks out there can become stronger communicators.
Steve Shallenberger: Tell us the inspiration of why you wrote the book.
Nancy Duarte: I have this training business, and we had a lot of people saying, “Oh, I love that you’ve taught me how to do an all-hands meeting or staged to talk, but can you help me with this really complex data?” So, scientists, engineers, project managers, data analysts, and they’re like, “We don’t stand and deliver but we love story!” And so, our workshops covered part of what they did, but they really wanted a way to explain data. And so, it’s really hit a nerve. The book is doing really well, I’m super pleased!
Steve Shallenberger: That’s so good! Well, Nancy, how can people find out about what you’re doing?
Nancy Duarte: Our website is duarte.com. I’m up on Twitter @Nancy Duarte and also @Duarte. I connect to people who connect me on LinkedIn and that’s about it.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay, that’s a good lead, great information. Thank you, Nancy, for being part of this show today!
Nancy Duarte: Thank you so much for having me, thank a ton!
Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, you bet! It’s been a delight, it’s been really productive and useful, and we wish you the best as you’re out there, making a difference all over the world!
Nancy Duarte: Thanks a ton! I appreciate it!
Steve Shallenberger: And to all of our listeners, you’re doing exactly the same thing! Wherever you are, you’re learning, you’re growing, you wouldn’t be on this podcast listening today, if you didn’t want to do that, if you didn’t want to learn new ways and get new ideas and find ways to improve. That’s the very heart of Becoming Your Best – it’s learning, it’s gaining new insights, taking that and adding your creativity to it, and what happens in the process and especially as we treat other people extraordinarily well, you make a huge difference! So it’s an honor to be able to be on this podcast with you, our listeners today! This is Steve Shallenberger, with Becoming Your Best Global Leadership, wishing you a great day!
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